1. Focus on Quality Retailers, Not Quantity
It can be extremely overwhelming when trying to figure out how to land your first few retail partnerships. One activity I found useful was mapping out what makes us unique, and which retailers would actually fit well with our brand. A few similarities you can consider are areas like shopper demographic (age, income, gender etc.), vision/brand ethos (what makes you unique – cruelty-free, natural, hand-made, female-founded, location-specific, etc.), or price point.
2. Customized Introductions
Get rid of the copy and paste! Retailers are bombarded daily by brands, so it’s crucial to set yourself apart from the rest. I recommend doing at least 15 minutes of research before drafting your cold email or Instagram DM. For example, if you want to contact a natural beauty retailer, check out their website to see if they have a list of dirty ingredients they will not accept, and mention that in your email. Or potentially the store owner had a specific reason for launching his/her shop that aligns well with your mission, such as wanting to support women-led businesses. The point is to steer away from generic cold emails and draft more personalized and friendly introductions to show you really care and put in the effort (as opposed to mass emailing thousands of retailers). When a retailer requests samples, it’s always nice to include a handwritten card (if possible!).
Our market set-up, where you’d often find us on weekends in Toronto (seen: our former brand, NIU BODY)!
3. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
It’s not enough to just send out cold intros from your laptop. When starting out, I walked across downtown Toronto over the span of several days and handed out samples and line sheets to all retailers that aligned with our vision. Showing a face behind NIU BODY helped greatly in securing partnerships. Laura and I also attended approximately 2 markets/month for a full year. This entailed setting up and tearing down a booth and standing for 9+ hours/day. Markets and pop-ups are a great way to meet local retailers, as buyers tend to scope out new local brands at these events. Tradeshows are also an amazing avenue for meeting buyers who are interested in your particular niche. If you’re a small beauty brand, we highly recommend Indie Beauty Expo!
Having a consistent Instagram feed and high engagement is a great indicator for buyers that you have a solid following of customers interested in your brand.
I know it’s tough, but it’s so, so important to stay positive! From my experience, retail partnerships increase exponentially over time. Once you land your first few retailers, referring to them when reaching out to new stores helps establish legitimacy to close the partnership. Also, many large retail buyers tend to shop around and see what new brands are carried at competitor retailers, so having your brand visible at brick/mortar and online stores is essential. Finally, what I’ve learned is not to take “no” as final. Instead, I think of it as “just not now.” One of our current retail partners said no to us in 2017, and then approached us the year after. Learn not to take no’s personally (sometimes it’s just not the right timing), and stay positive and courteous in all interactions.